I once had a very stern conversation with my mother, using the words of another wise mama I knew in my neighborhood, that went like this: “Grandma cannot trump Santa.”
She was hurt and I was indignant. I imagined her returning a few gifts, or more likely, hiding them in places she wouldn’t remember or find again until another holiday season approached. But what really happened is that she just wrapped up everything and gave it to him anyway. And I went out and bought each gift on my own list for my child. He opened them all, first at our house and then at his grandparents’ home, squealing and surprised and delighted, then left them behind to celebrate Christmas with his dad and other set of grandparent gift-givers.
Year after year, the ante has been upped. Even after the Santa balloon burst, the presents have piled up in each of my son’s three homes. And I get it—I can no longer blame Grandma or Santa or anyone else. It is on me. I get carried away and excited and obligated and guilty and all those bundled emotions that lead to too much craplastic toy mania, lots of it still in unopened boxes tucked in the closet or played with exuberantly exactly once.
This year, though, there is a smaller budget and another child in the Christmas mix. And every single night for months, I’ve stared into my son’s closet with wonder and shame at all the wasteful giving stashed in there.
So I made a proposition: Let’s sell this stuff. You will make money from it and we will clear space in our hearts and closet for good giving, real giving, things and moments and stuff we truly want.
He was hesitant. He hasn’t completely bought in yet. But I swear that this weekend, after the turkey and pie have been consumed, we are going to both become more responsible, respectful consumers ourselves.
Here’s my plan.
1. Gather together all the brand new, unopened toys. List them on Craigslist. Share them on Facebook. Cross fingers to sell them to parents and people who want to give Ninjago/Halo/inflatable helium-floating sharks to kids who will love and use them. Cross fingers to collect some cash.
2. Set up a hover board fund for my son. Because of course this is on his Christmas list this year. Along with a GoPro camera and Beats by Dre headphones for the music device he also doesn’t own. I’ve told him that he is welcome to earn a hover board (or those other items) himself and a good start will be in releasing the other unused toys (to arguably buy another one he won’t use, but you know…lessons and whatnot).
3. Shop for the baby from my son’s old toys. When we moved two years ago, we piled a corner of my mom’s basement high with toddler toys my son was excited to sell (the kid loves cash). But then I had a baby and we agreed to hold on to them a while longer. I’ll be taking my son over to that garage sale stash to shop for our tiniest family member who has no cognition or cares about which of these gifts has been well-loved. In fact, she’d probably babble about it even louder if we let her think she was stealing it out of her brother’s room of fascination and big-kid magic.
4. Focus on the sentimental. My mom has one-upped Santa already, at least in tugging emotional strings with gift ideas. She offered a doll bed that I played with as a kid to me to give to my little girl who also loves her babies. In that same teary spirit of giving, I will also be putting all my son’s camp pictures from the last few years into a photo book to help him count memories and days until he gets to go back to one of his happiest places again.
5. Resist resist resist. This is a growth moment for me, too. My family was on a tight budget most Christmases when I was a kid, and my inclination as a parent myself has been to undo that by over-giving to my children. I’ll be actively resisting that temptation. And possibly investing the cash I would have spent on an extra therapy sesh or two clear out some of that mental clutter from my childhood.
6. Be a better model gift recipient. I have blindly accepted many gifts that I don’t really need or want, holiday after holiday. I let them sit in my closet and then eventually ship them off to Goodwill or slyly regift them to a girlfriend. I’ve promised myself to be clearer with my own Christmas list, and to fill it with everyday things that will make me happy throughout the year. For me, this means gift cards for a massage or a mani-pedi, a new electric toothbrush, a splurgey micro-derm treatment from the aesthetician I haven’t seen in far too long. It might not be exciting for the gift giver (I get that wrapping up little cards isn’t a thrill) but I also want to emphasize that these things will really make me squeal with more delight than a sweater I don’t want and am too exhausted/out of time/lazy/obligated to return for dollar bills.
I am honestly not sure how this will go. But I feel relieved to begin the holiday season with a plan for more peace than presents, less clutter and more space for calm. I want us to love each of our gifts, or at least most of them. And I think our chances of getting to that good giving and receiving place begins with LESS STUFF.
Here’s to a Christmas tradition that begins today.